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Email as a broadcast channel

Email has long been categorised as a direct marketing tool - but is it time for the marketing industry to ask whether this label is a major injustice to an incredibly valuable media channel?

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It’s easy to see why email was originally viewed as a better fit in the DM department, rather than the media team. However, marketers measured (and unfortunately continue to measure) the success of dispatching each email as a singular event – just like they do with direct mail – with performance assessed on open, click and purchase rates of each individual campaign, opposed to reviewing the cumulative brand impact of numerous emails over a period of time.

In reality, direct mail and email are quite different.  Direct mail campaigns carry a hefty cost to dispatch, due to the large production values involved to bring the mail to fruition.  So marketers have to be hugely targeted in who they send items out to if they want to generate return on investment from their campaigns.

The cost to send out an email, on the other hand, is a pittance – but because of the channel’s heritage as a DM tool, it falls victim to the same optimisation techniques used with direct mail – where marketers set about maximising ROI through traditional DM techniques and ultimately, send less email. What email marketers should be aiming to maximise are responses, which are achieved by sending more email.

This approach means that marketers and media planners are currently missing out on the huge opportunity that email offers as a branding tool.  But why would media planners want to be involved in email campaigns? There are two key reasons: firstly because of email’s reach and secondly, because of the way consumers actually react to and engage with the email marketing messages they receive.

In terms of reach, a major UK high street retailer might easily have 2 million opted-in names on its database. How many TV programmes or magazines can boast that sort of audience today? What’s more, we’re not talking about 2 million people who might happen to see an ad in between TV programmes; these are consumers that have expressly requested to receive messages in their inbox from a brand, having consciously opted into their email marketing. Most media planners would surely struggle to name many other channels that offer such a large, receptive audience at such a low cost.

To the second point, marketers have for too long measured email marketing success based on open rates. But surely a consumer doesn’t have to open an email from a brand to know they have received one? What’s more, for a brand to believe every email they send out will be opened by every recipient is ludicrous. In truth, where 20 per cent of consumers might open an email marketing message from a brand, four times that number won’t. But that doesn’t mean they won’t have seen the email.

This is where subject lines are so crucial – not just as a mechanism to get consumers to open emails, but to make a key message resonate with an audience. For example, an insurance company knows that people will only renew their home insurance once a year. So opposed to sending out one targeted message in advance of a customer’s insurance renewal date, in the hope that the consumer will pick up on it, why not send an email multiple times through a year that re-enforces your brand and its key message in its subject header?

Far from exacerbating inbox overload, initiating a sensible increase in the number of emails sent and beginning to recognise email’s significance as a broadcast channel will present massive brand value.  In advertising, the core message and repetition are the key, so chances are that if a consumer sees the subject line "Acme Insurance: Home insurance for less" twelve times a year in their inbox, whether they opened the emails or not, they will probably ask for a quote from you. Ask them why, and they’ll say: "because Acme do home insurance for less."

Just as television adverts aim to engage viewers with the brand a little more each time they see them, email has the power to build perception of a brand with its audience over time and offers the nudge effect to drive them to make a purchase when they are good and ready.

Dela Quist is chief executive of Alchemy Worx

This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk

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